The Frankincense Boy from Gujarat

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The magic of travel is, of course, the places one sees: some are stunning, others charming, and some can be challenging. But what makes traveling so attractive to me is primarily the people I meet, especially those I stumble on in unplanned, random encounters. Some of these people leave lasting impressions. Sahib, the frankincense boy is one of them.

I met Sahib in Poshina, a village in the northern state of Gujarat fairly close to the border with Rajasthan. At dawn, the first day, I started walking in the village. The first thing I noticed was that there were a few people sleeping on the streets, some of them on a platform in front of an array of small shops. A young boy was awake among them standing next to a pile of blankets. I waved at him, took a quick photo and continued to explore further. A couple of hours later, as I was retracing my steps to go back for what I felt was a well-deserved breakfast, I saw this young boy again. He was sitting on what I assume was his mother’s lap, next to an older boy and a much older lady. The older boy was Sahib, 10 years old, looking serious and responsible. I sat with them for a while and learned that the younger boy was his little brother and the older lady, his grandmother. His father meandered toward us at a later point.

Sahib is not from Poshina, he is a wanderer or an itinerant. His family does not have a home. To earn a little money for the family, he burns frankinsence in the top-tier of a three-tiered vessel. Sahib goes around the village stopping at houses and shops to offer them the smoke and smell of his frankincense that he shares using a small piece of cardboard as a fan in exchange for a few coins. This is his life: he does not go to school, he just walk around offering to “purify” people’s life thru a little sniff of his frankincense. After chatting for a while, Sahib announced that it was time for him to start his round and I decided to follow along (breakfast will have to wait to the annoyance of my hungry stomach).

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And so Sahib (and I) spent the next few hours in the streets of this small village, chatting with the tailors (somehow Poshina has a lot of tailors) and the shop owners, knocking at doors of family homes in narrow streets, meeting people some of whom he clearly knew but also new ones. Though Sahib is clearly Muslim, the villagers who are predominantly Hindus seemed to be as welcoming to his frankincense or to Sahib as the Muslims were.

At the end of his route, Sahib announced that he was done and was now going to another village for the afternoon. I asked him whether his family would sleep at the same place as last night and if I could come back to say goodbye the next day. He said yes. So at dawn the next day, I went down to the platform where I had seen the little boy the previous morning, ready for another adventure with Sahib. Sadly nobody was on the platform. I will never have the answers to the million questions I had about his life and I will probably never see Sahib’s smile again. Yet, the little time I spent with him was magical.

Meet Sahib.

France
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P.S. For better viewing enjoyment, click on the title of the post to get to the website.

P.P.S. You can follow me on Instagram at franceleclerc

This entry was posted in Gujarat, India, Photography, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , .

8 Comments

  1. Lisa December 4, 2016 at 16:07 #

    Nice France, the image third from the end is GREAT!

    • franceleclerc December 5, 2016 at 14:09 #

      Thank you Lisa. Yep, my favorite image too. He was a very endearing boy! XX

  2. Harrie December 5, 2016 at 02:31 #

    Fine series!

    • franceleclerc December 5, 2016 at 14:11 #

      Thank you. I am glad you liked it. France

  3. Jack Weingarten December 5, 2016 at 08:38 #

    I’m Cynthia Winter’s brother-in-law. Cynthia has been sharing your photos with me for quite some time. I’m a great admirer of your work. I’ve been photographing for forty+ years. I do mostly street photography which works out well as we live about forty-five minutes from NYC. I really enjoyed the Sahib images. The best compliment I can give to someone else’s photograph is that I wish I had taken it. That would apply to several of the Sahib photos. I look forward to seeing more of your work.
    Jack Weingarten

    • franceleclerc December 5, 2016 at 18:44 #

      Dear Jack, So nice hearing from you. Yes Cynthia had mentioned that Nicholas’s brother was interested in photography and that she was forwarding him my blog posts. I am sure you have quite a portfolio since you have been at it for some time, I like street photography as well but it is an art form in itself. Thanks for your kind words on the images of Sahib. As always when you have a connection with a subject, things end up looking better. I am glad you are enjoying the images. Hope I get to see your work one day. All the best, France

  4. Elise Rosenbaum December 5, 2016 at 14:48 #

    Good thing you put breakfast on the back burner (no pun intended) and tagged along with Sahib–the photos of your morning with him are delightful. You defintley have the gift of relating to people. And your photos let us along for the vicarious ride.

    • franceleclerc December 5, 2016 at 18:47 #

      Elise, Sahib was easy to relate too. He was a very endearing boy. I wish I could have had more time with him. Oh well. And I never worry about breakfast, there is always lunch… Hope you are well. France